POMED Notes: “Jordan on the Eve of Elections: Stability, Protest, or Reform?”
On Thursday, January 17, 2013, The Atlantic Council hosted an event titled “Jordan on the Eve of Elections: Stability, Protest, or Reform?” The event was a discussion with Dayna Greenfield, Deputy Director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, with commentary from Hisham Melham, Washington Bureau Chief for Al Arabiya News Channel, and joining the conversation via Skype from Jordan was Mohammed Hussainy, Director of the Integrity Coalition for Election Observation. The discussion was moderated by Michele Dunne, Director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.
For full event notes, continue reading or click here for the PDF.
The discussion began with an overview by Hisham Melham of Jordan’s political situation. “Jordan is facing a serious political crisis, the question is, is Jordan on the brink or not?” he said. Melham qualified this observation by commenting that he never saw King Hussein being challenged by traditional East Bank Jordanians, but that he sees it happening now against King Abdullah II. While Jordan might be on the brink of serious political change, Melham does not see this as an inevitable condition for violence. “Everyone from the King to the Islamists are not seeking violent confrontation,” he said. But Melham did see violence as a possibility and if the King continues to apply the IMF recommendations without serious cash infusions, arguing there is a possibility that worsening economic conditions could lead to violence.
Also if Jordan’s political situation continues to decline, Melham believes Saudi Arabia will get involved. “The Saudis will see a deteriorated Jordan as a direct threat to their national security,” he said. “If things continue to deteriorate, in six months you will see some sort of Saudi intervention.”
Danya Greenfield summarized her recent Issue Brief titled “Jordan’s Electoral Environment and Prospects for Change.” She sees a lack of progress in Jordan’s democratic transition and believes this contributes to the apathy and doubt Jordanians have for the upcoming elections. Specifically, Greenfield believes the new electoral law “kept in place the status quo,” which resulted in a widespread disappointment that the promised reforms had fallen short.
While Greenfield criticized many of the King’s reforms, she acknowledged that there were important improvements in the election system, mainly the creation of the IEC, improvement of the vote tally system, and the efforts to minimize fraud. “I believe the election will appear fairly clean and fair,” she said, however “the results are likely to return an identical parliament.”
Mohammed Hussainy joined the discussion from Jordan via Skype. He emphasized that most Jordanians don’t see the election as a political process because they’ve lost trust in the system and therefore are apathetic to the method and the results. He alleged that he’s seen vote buying become a big issue, saying that people aren’t secretive about it and everyone knows it’s happening. Hussainy closed by predicting a return to street protests two weeks after the election, when the people will be demanding a new elected parliament.
In the question and answer session that followed, Hisham Melham responded to a question about U.S. policy towards Jordan by saying the U.S. should put more pressure on the Jordanian government to implement serious reform. However, he argued that this was unlikely given the U.S.’s current position on Bahrain. “The U.S. is still arming Bahrain and not pushing for reform” he said, reasoning that it was unlikely for Americans to push Jordan when Bahrain is much less democratic and committing human rights abuses.
Also during the question and answer session, Deputy Chief of Mission to the Jordanian Embassy Mahmoud Hmoud stood up to articulate the views of the Jordanian government. He made clear that the King has made significant reforms which are currently being implemented, and that the current election law is not the final law, and that the government anticipates it changing eventually. “This is a transitional period,” he said. The Jordanian government wants a few political parties to develop in the next two to three years so that Jordanians can express their political views in parties that represent left, right, and center.
Mohammed Hussainy responded by agreeing Jordan was in a transitional period but arguing it could be a much better transition. Dayna Greenfield agreed with Hussainy saying “things could have been done this time that weren’t.” Hisham Melham concluded the event with his final statements that reiterated the importance of the next few months for Jordan’s stability and recognizing that the King can still maintain control while transitioning the country to democracy. “King Abdullah can lead the process… but unless the King is willing to clobber some special interests, he’s not going to lead the process that will save Jordan.”